Between Being and Becoming? Rights, Responsibilities and the Politics of Multiculture in the New East End



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Between Being and Becoming? Rights, Responsibilities and the Politics of Multiculture in the New East End


by Michael J Keith
Goldsmiths College, University of London

Sociological Research Online, Volume 13, Issue 5,
.

To cite articles published in Sociological Research Online, please reference the above information and include paragraph numbers if necessary.

Received: 11/6/2008 Accepted: 23/9/2008 Published: 30/9/2008




Introduction


1.1 In this article I draw on two pieces of work that analyse how we consider the relationship between place and belonging in the rapidly changing city. The interplay between rhetorics of community and languages of civil rights appeal to different senses of the good society. When inflected by notions of solidarity that are mediated by place and by race we can see at times a confused sense of how we understand both what it means to think about la droit à la ville (the right to the city) and how we might want to think differently. This is important in a city such as London where the frequently contested arenas of local politics take place in settings where demographic change is extremely rapid. The stranger in the midst of dynamic London settings can be the refugee, the Chinese DVD seller, the asylum seeker, the A8 migrant from the old Eastern Europe, the gentrifier, or the affluent businessman from the Gulf, New York or Shanghai.

1.2 How do we think the settlement of these new articulations of multicultural urbanism should arbitrate between alternative claims on the welfare state, the public realm or the labour markets that structure employment opportunities? And when London bases its Olympian claims on the interplay of regeneration and multicultural diversity of the East End, whilst simultaneously the British National Party in the 2006 local elections make their largest gains in the city in the borough of Barking and Dagenham just to the east of the Olympics site, then perhaps the time has come to unpick the way we think about city form and social justice in the setting of today's globalised urbanisms.

1.3 To pursue these questions this article draws on the author's longstanding engagement with research and politics in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and on a piece of research conducted in Barking and Dagenham in 2006-2007 to think about the simultaneous realisation of processes of 'multicultural being' and patterns of 'city becoming' in today's London[1]

The Inner East East End


2.1 In a well publicised book titled The New East End, Geoff Dench and Kate Gavron (2006) of the Young Foundation have argued that Britain's welfare system has marginalised the white working class and helped fuel years of racial conflict in London's Tower Hamlets. As the Introductory essay to this collection of articles notes, the book was published in 2006 to strongly positive responses from Trevor Phillips, chair of the old Commission for Racial Equality (and the new Commission for Equalities and Human Rights), Lord Bhikhu Parekh (of the Parekh Report 2000) and sundry political players.

2.2 The book's unremittingly downbeat narrative of racial antagonism squares oddly with the absence of milltown disorders in the borough (as witnessed in the northern UK towns in the summer of 2001), the diverse solidarities that faced down seven East End bombings since 1990 by the Irish Republican Army, the Nazi nail bomber on Brick Lane and the '7/7' Islamist bombings in London in 2005. The emphasis on state failure likewise sits awkwardly alongside unrivalled improvements in Tower Hamlets schools, the recognition of a social services department and a local strategic partnership as the best in the country, and an award by the local government watchdog, the Improvement and Development Agency, for 'community cohesion'. Between 1993 and 2003 the borough had moved from Beackon to Beacon - from the first fascist councillor in a British town hall, Derek Beackon, to the 'Beacon Award' for national excellence won in the annual competition held by the national Improvement and Development Agency that supports local government in Britain. None of this is to gainsay the historical legacies of poverty in the East End, the pronounced forms of social polarisation that juxtapose the Docklands' new wealth with reproduced patterns of social disadvantage or the massive pressures on limited welfare resources of housing, health and education locally.

2.3 So what is at stake here? The issues raised by the Young Foundation are important and the book is significant. But the authors conflate three contentious assumptions: an historical amnesia around whiteness; a confusion of selective histories and absent geographies; and debates about welfare rights and migration.

2.4 Nostalgia sits in that space after history ends and biography begins. It is always on the move and invariably personally inflected. In the Young Foundation narrative, nostalgia trumps history. Historically, the white East End of London gave us exemplary moments of cultural fusion. The quintessentially British fish and chips emerged here from the legacy of Jewish methods of preparing fish and the Huguenot tradition of fried Irish spuds. But it also generated clashes between Catholic and Jew, iconically marked in turf wars such as the Battle of Cable Street. 'Whiteness' crumbles under even minimal scrutiny; held together by a plaintive appeal to the true horrors of the Blitz that conceals the invention of the cockney tradition. As the old manor of Wapping immortalised in the racist British TV character Alf Garnet has been subverted by the gentrification of Cher, Rio Ferdinand and Helen Mirren, and the pacification by cappuccino of the old Docks proceeds apace, it is easy to forget that in each decade of the last century the East End sheltered visions of a new global order mediated by creatively local spaces. From Rudolph Rocker's Jewish cosmopolitan anti-colonialism through the anarchism of Peter the Painter that challenged Churchill and the internationalism that led people to fight Franco in Spain, a transnational sensibility has structured the political horizon of the parochial white East End's global imaginary. White solidarities have emerged out of crucibles of frequently violent conflict that belie the cosy image of the cockney, personified by Irish crime families that retain a hold on some parts of the local drugs trade and the protection rackets.

2.5 In this setting, the selective edit that passes for 'history' privileges some voices and silences others. The slaughter of the Blitz was real enough. But the authors of the study suggest that white families were discriminated against in the post war settlement through the foregrounding of Bangladeshi housing needs in a 'preoccupation with the most vulnerable' (a preoccupation shared by Christ). Yet the splash full page Guardian article that coincided with the book's publication and the book itself were curiously silent about the systemic institutional racism uncovered in the Greater London Council allocation policies in the 1980s. Bangladeshi families were awarded consistently the worst housing and the Commission for Racial Equality was stirred to move against the local authority (Bunting 2006). Bangladeshi rights to the city were also fought for rather than given; the right to walk the streets of Brick Lane required a struggle of the youth movements of the late 70s. The price paid by the high profile victims of racist violence – from Altab Ali to Quddus Ali and many others– are barely recognised in a narrative that privileges the golden era of the 1950s when Michael Young first characterised the area's local culture (Young and Wilmott 1957).

2.6 But most significantly the work ducks one of the central questions in contemporary politics: how do we regulate the welfare state in a world structured by global flows of people and resources? Whilst the economic benefits of migration accrue nationally, the social costs are concentrated geographically. Crudely put, we make most demands on the welfare state at the beginning and the end of our lives. Migrants are cheap for the welfare state. The majority come born, nurtured, schooled and skilled. They participate disproportionately in the workforce and are net contributors to tax revenues. But the social costs of migration in housing shortages and ethnic competition are focused on dense city neighbourhoods. This is where the greatest descriptive power and the most serious analytical flaw of the Young Foundation work come together, in describing the local consequences of postcolonial migration flows of Bangladeshi labour. White working classes (frequently second or third generation 'migrants' themselves) competed in a scarcity auction with new and old migrants alike. Historical truths find less comfortable parallels in the contemporary equivalents that also are rarely mentioned. Today sink estates bought through the 'right to buy' (often by Bangladeshi migrants) are let out to Lithuanians and Russians and the Catholic school rolls rise again. Who has a 'right' to demand welfare support in this globalised world? Whose communities should be recognised in forms of welfare provision? These tensions demand a more robust exploration of the responsibilities and rights of the welfare state in a global city than a simple appeal to the unifying bathos of the Blitz narrative.

2.7 Conflicts between strands of political Islam and secular Bangladeshis, new EC accession country migrants and black and white East Enders are not adequately addressed by a vocabulary of 'race' or race relations that belongs in the 1980s. In recent ethnographic work (Back et al. forthcoming), new realities reflect sentiments that transcend local neighbourhoods and appeal to a global sensibility. They epitomise Britain's new multiculture, what Stuart Hall has described as 'globalisation's accompanying shadow' (Hall 2001: 217). The 'years of racial conflict' the Young Institute espouses do not square with the sense of the global-local found both for better and for worse in today's East End. The legacies of Iraq, the macabre spectacle of local left MP George Galloway as a pussycat in the Big Brother TV spectacle, and the 7/7 bombings all suggest that geopolitics has come home again, sometimes in uncanny ways. We have passed beyond the moment when we can think of a little Britain that 'assimilates' migrant minorities. Jew, Catholic and Muslim, Sylheti, Lithuanian and Celt are British and something else simultaneously. New welfare state configurations of community sentiment and rational organisation must speak to these globalised realities in a language of rights and responsibilities fit for purpose in the 21st century.

2.8 This might make us want to think about how a sense of communitarian belonging sits in tension with a sentimental transnationalism that accompanies globalisation's flows of people and finance. Transnational links sit in tension with spatially bordered configurations of rights, something that becomes more revealing still when considering the borough a few miles east of Tower Hamlets, the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, a part of the city hosting some of the largest regeneration projects in the capital and at the heart of the 'largest regeneration project in Europe', the Thames Gateway.


The Outer East End


3.1 Shortly after the publication of The New East End, and the controversy that surrounded the work, the local authority elections in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham witnessed the victory of the British National Party in almost every seat that they contested. The shocking rise of the far right through electoral success at the local level properly focused attention and debate on the source of their support and the sentimental power of their party's appeal. The plight of the white working class in contemporary London, the mutating forms of contemporary multiculture, the trajectories of industrial restructuring on the job market, price inflation on the homes market and the stresses and strains of the welfare state all attracted attention. And in this context it is more rather than less important that journalistic cliché and muddled thinking are avoided in understanding both the ethical power of sociological analysis and the moral perils of racial polarisation, nationalist politics and community division. In this context, the act of sociological description, modestly but accurately deployed, fuses private troubles and public issues, details the plural perspectives and singular dilemmas of city transformation in all their incommensurability ( C. Wright Mills 1959).

3.2 The borough is undergoing radical and speedy change. The population of the borough is growing fast and its ethnic composition is reconfiguring. At the same time as the consequent pressures on public services of all kinds, and especially social housing, have increased, the once impressive manufacturing economy of the area – which offered plentiful jobs to the less skilled – has been in severe decline. This combination of growth, decline and pressure is the back-drop to recent events in Barking and Dagenham and to an understanding of the challenges facing public policy[2].

3.3 Change inevitably brings both opportunities and threats, sometimes perceived and sometimes real. In this fast-moving context, public policy generally needs to evolve if the best outcomes are to be achieved.

3.4 Barking and Dagenham was created in 1965 by the amalgamation of the two councils. To this day the historic divide between the two places and their quite different structures and morphologies, and to some extent destinies, remind us of the challenge of building a third significant locus at Barking Riverside. How can this be done well and for the long term, let alone without exacerbating the existing divides within the borough?

3.5 Barking Town centre is a historic town, originally a fishing port and market and subsequently a residential and service hinterland for London's Docklands in their heyday. It is now well connected by public transport to central London, the city and the new financial district of Canary Wharf. With a concentrated retail offer and other assets you would associate with a market town, Barking has a quite different urban structure from Dagenham. The recent surge in projects in and around Barking town centre is rooted in that structure and the transport connections which make Barking town centre a key new site in the build-out of the London Thames Gateway.

3.6 Dagenham, by contrast, is decidedly in the county of Essex. Though the village of Dagenham has been in existence since Saxon times, it never became, in urban hierarchy terms, a town. Indeed, all but a few remnants of the ancient village were obliterated by development by the 1960s. Most of the population growth which gave 'Dagenham' its 20th century profile, took place outside the historic village on land which became world-famous as the Becontree Estate. By 1939 this was the biggest social housing estate outside the Soviet Union, and given the absence of high rise flats in the model, the estate with the most low density family homes anywhere in the world. At its peak the estate had 27,000 homes and contained 90,000 of what the Council's website calls 'the better-off working class Londoner'. From the 1930s the destinies of the area were largely determined by the development of the Ford Motor Company and its huge dispersed site on the Thames near Dagenham Dock (Olechnowicz 1997). The two key 'push' and 'pull' forces acting on Dagenham for decades were thus established by the end of the 1930s. Social housing and well-paid manufacturing employment acted as 'pull' factors. Over time, the individual social mobility enabled by employment at Ford, the availability of private family housing further out in Essex, and the impact of right to buy policies which had a unique impact on Dagenham with its large number of family-sized council homes, resulted in significant 'push' factors and the flight from Dagenham of many aspirational families. The decline of decades is palpable, and whilst both Barking and Dagenham exhibit characteristics of northern post-industrial towns, Dagenham is London's locus classicus of the ex-manufacturing mono-culture, with more pockets of severe deprivation, ill health, unemployment, low skills and educational attainment and unemployment.

3.7 With a small and dispersed retail offer, lower residential density, no obvious town centre, an urban form disrupted by the development of Ford and its logistical requirements (and now by the A13 and the M25), and being less connected to opportunities in central London, the City or Canary Wharf, Dagenham is thus quite different from Barking. Barking Town centre is in marketing terms and real estate reality 'beginning to happen' as developers discover its potential. Despite some recent innovative master-planning initiatives and the LDA focus on the area as a potentially significant modern manufacturing and logistics hub, little in development terms or in terms of 'making the place' is going on in Dagenham.

3.8 However, unlike northern towns which peaked economically and demographically 100 years ago, both Barking and Dagenham are experiencing new population, economic and housing pressures. This is not least because they are both part of the Thames Gateway whose development is beginning to shape the destinies of these two places in related but differing fashions, rooted in the differing labour and housing markets and market potentials of the two places. In this context, not only is there potentially a divergence between Barking and Dagenham that amplifies an old political division, there is also a significant difference in the drivers of development and change. The difference has also had different ethnic consequences – with an increasing Asian presence in the Barking part of the borough, as its development melds into that of Newham, Tower Hamlets and Redbridge around it, and an increasing, and aspirational, Black-African presence in Dagenham, drawn by the availability of former family-sized social housing at an affordable price. In the latter area, in the last five years the proportion of children of school age in some of the borough's schools coming from a Black-African family has gone up from 3 per cent to 15 per cent.

3.9 Since the first mooting of the Thames Gateway, the local authority in Barking and Dagenham has embraced the regeneration agenda and the council is the accountable body for the Thames Gateway London Partnership. However, the success of the British National Party in the local authority elections has provided a challenge to this support. Regeneration and city transformation have become the focus of political mobilisation. A sentimental contest of who the city is for and who will inherit the future resonates in most places - in sites of rapid transformation even more so.

3.10 In this context the existence in the borough of one of the largest residential development sites in contemporary London at Barking Riverside provides a litmus test for the interplay of models of city change and London's new multiculture. Not particularly accessible, constituted by a patchwork of 'brownfield' industrial uses that have been brought together in a single development site through a joint venture between English Partnerships and a major housebuilder, Riverside has a paradoxical existence. In some ways it lives more in the future than in the present or the past. This temporality generates a facility for this future city to be at times invisible, as over the last fifteen years Ricardian rent curves make it one of the sites more vulnerable to property market downturns; the plausibility of regeneration narratives qualified by a promise of future development that has stretched back many years. Yet the invisibility of a pace of property development seen in other parts of London contrasts with a political profile that may wax and wane for other reasons. As the future of the borough is brought into focus through the lens of migration and demographic change, brownfield regeneration generates alternative imaginaries of belonging and citizenship and there is always the potential for political debate to crystallise around particular development sites and specific planning permissions. These in turn open up the imaginaries of social engineering that are at the heart of this particular piece of city building.

3.11 The British National Party (BNP) campaigned against the Gateway development, against development in and migration to the borough, and against the development of Barking Riverside. They also campaigned for the local council to control both local housing stock and its allocation. In these circumstances it is clearly important to understand both the dynamics of change that inform the growth in BNP support and the policy levers that can be brought to bear in the face of the potential social division that results. It is of great interest that the overwhelming majority of their twelve councillors represent Dagenham – where there is no new residential 'Thames Gateway' development and not Barking where there is. This might suggest that where development has already taken place, and where populations have grown and indeed changed, that the political impact is less or is already factored in. Furthermore, it suggests that where the fear of new development and new populations predominates, and no new opportunities or development are actually on the ground, political reaction is at its most acute. However, this view is questioned by local politicians from the established parties who say 'if the BNP had stood a candidate in every ward in the borough in May they would have won them all' – consciously or unconsciously echoing the analysis of Dench and Gavron (2006) examined above. And behind this, say the same sources, is the view that for many existing inhabitants in many places in the borough the Thames Gateway experience thus far has been 'all pain/no gain'. There have been increased populations and pressures on public services and housing - with insufficient new affordable housing in either the private or the public domain, and new jobs which many locals cannot access.

3.12 This is the context which confronts both the local political establishment and indeed a public body advocating the putative advantages of large scale regeneration. Although there is some evidence that the threat of the BNP has actually acted as a galvanising force on the local leadership and borough management, the challenge is serious and the battle only just begun. It is significant however, against this backdrop, that the borough leadership remains steadfast on the Thames Gateway and ready to put its weight behind Barking Riverside, having received what it felt to have been adequate assurances from Government and the Mayor of London on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) extension. In October 2006 the Barking Development Control Committee of the council granted outline planning permission for the masterplan application on Riverside. This will provide both a major public relations success for English Partnerships (EP) and all those committed to the success of the Thames Gateway. But it will be an equally significant challenge for EP in the political climate locally and in terms of realising no mere 'housing development' but in effect a model place and community – with the regeneration world and government at all levels watching closely.

3.13 A site that was at the heart of the earliest plans for the Gateway will, after many false starts, be given the green light for delivery at a time when concerns about the rate of housing delivery in London continue to grow. It will possibly be one of the first major tests of the capacity of the Housing Corporation and EP, either acting in partnership or via a new merged entity, to deliver very large residential numbers at urban renaissance quality. With obvious pressures on the public purse subsidy of new housing, the tensions between the numbers, the rate of build out, the quality and the ecological sustainability of new housing stock development are considerable. Equally, there remain difficulties around facilitating development on the site. Longstanding aspirations for a new transport infrastructure - to have the DLR extend to Barking and the need for road improvements to the A13 - both provide challenges. But most importantly, the quality of the build out of Riverside, particularly in its earliest phases, will attract significant public attention. It will be one of the largest single residential developments in the Thames Gateway, akin to the focus on the new town at Thamesmead or the build out of Greenwich peninsular. The reputational issues for the agencies involved will be significant and this can only be amplified by a democratically elected local authority BNP presence opposed to the build out of the site and the potential for regional assembly (such as the Greater London Authority or GLA) and European elections to lend profile to debates and developments.

Development and Change


3.14 In the current GLA proposals the borough of Barking and Dagenham is expected to see the development of over 11, 900 new homes from 2007/2008 to 2016/2017[3] and (in varying estimates) well over 20, 000 new homes over the next twenty years. Whilst a significant proportion of these new homes are intended to be developed on Barking Riverside, it is becoming clear that a significant number of sites with existing transport access are already coming to the market in Barking Town centre. Whilst Dagenham has capacity in several locations for housing capacity growth, development pressures reflect the poor transport links and are much less strong.

3.15 Somewhat surprisingly, although a large number of new homes will be based on the EP/Bellway joint venture at Barking Riverside, it is fair to suggest that at the moment it does not feature strongly on the 'political radar' locally: Although the BNP have opposed the development there is no evidence that it played any part in their relative success in May. There is a sense among the political leadership of the borough that as an area south of the A13 it will have its own dynamic. This dynamic might be understood as a 'third pole of change' in a local culture that already stresses the differences between Barking and Dagenham as two areas linked through single borough amalgamation. At its most 'hands-off' this attitude amounts to an 'out of sight, out of mind' approach. At its most benign it views Barking Riverside as a new third, quite separate place within Barking and Dagenham with little integration suggested between Barking Riverside and Barking, or Barking Riverside and Dagenham.

3.16 This is not a sense shared by senior officers of the local authority, who in general regard the area as a prime site for regeneration, a testing ground for the borough's long term support of the Thames Gateway project, and as needing to be developed and managed through its linkages with the rest of the borough as much as through its own resources. For them it is an integral part of the new 'Barking and Dagenham equation' not an island in itself.

Housing Stock


3.17 Since the introduction of 'Right to buy' by the Conservative governments of the 1980s, the profile of home ownership in the borough has changed significantly. A 1970s pattern of tenure saw approximately 60 thousand households in the borough of which 40 thousand were council tenants. By the turn of the century this pattern had changed to a situation where stock breaks down almost evenly with approximately 20 thousand privately owned, 20 thousand leaseholders and 20 thousand council tenants. This is a very different market and context for the council to seek to understand let alone manage.

3.18 A strong municipalist political culture in the borough has led to a rejection of many of the institutional vehicles common to the last decade including stock transfer and arms length management organisations (ALMOs). However, remaining council tenants wanting to upgrade or up-size confront incoming homeless families, refugees or simply nominations from other council areas in the sub region in a competition for slimmed down housing assets. This has come about because the policy of 'right to buy' has denuded and reduced the diversity of the stock leaving council tenants, as the BNP puts it, 'on the 14th floor' when in the past they could move on to a family home in Becontree now lost to the stock. In this context, the common aspiration of the local political leadership to provide more social and affordable housing and more choice has been translated into a desire to either build or extend council management of housing stock.

3.19 The BNP have indeed campaigned for the Council to control and build stock, in the wake of the May election result, and claim responsibility for the council's innovative emerging proposals to use council land for an equity share in new housing developments.[4] Despite this latter innovation (which has evolved since 2006 alongside a national housing policy that sets the limits on local authority autonomy) the local political debate on housing can be characterised as being bracketed within the parameters of the Defend Council Housing/Fourth option campaign and the rhetoric of BNP demands for 'public housing for locals'. The 'Defend Council Housing' campaign has resisted the moves nationally to support social housing through state subsidy of housing associations, suspecting the motives and accountability of the registered social landlords (housing associations). The call for a 'Fourth Option' in housing policy has demanded that central government restore the right of local authorities to build and let their own housing stock. The BNP demanded the prioritisation of local 'belonging' in the allocation of existing housing stock to families with several generations' links to the borough – which in many of its articulations is completely illegal. With central government opposed to the macro-economic fiscal implications of a 'Fourth option', which would see a return to social housing being built by and managed by councils on balance-sheet, yet with public policy needing to recognise the need for more social and affordable housing investment in the fast-growing parts of the Thames Gateway, the debate in Barking and Dagenham by 2007 had become both sterile and urgent.

3.20 But significantly, the planning of 'future housing' is framed by debates that set private market against state supply solutions; housing growth targets imposed by the London Mayor's office against local aspirations; or just try to figure the calculus of cost, demand, density, carbon footprint and rates of return. These debates are important. But because they exist 'in the future' they tend to be colour blind; careless about the multicultural implications of London's turbulent demographics. It is important to set the logics of housing led regeneration and population growth against these demographics. And, to translate the drivers of some of the significant political processes on the ground into a vocabulary that does not mimic the rhetorics of The New East End but instead does justice to some of the tensions that underscore social policy intervention.


Belonging and Becoming; the Realities of Ethnic Competition


3.21 The economic logics of housing-led population growth need to be understood against the context of the multicultural dynamics of population change that has informed the growth of BNP support locally. Migration locally is multiracial and multicultural but not straightforwardly so. Objectively, there are at least three strands of competition between existing white communities and 'incomers' that are at the heart of BNP appeals for support.

3.22 The first strand of competition revolves around access to social goods such as education, doctors' surgeries and hospitals, but particularly to social housing. The combination of 'right to buy' reductions in public housing stock availability, the advent of sub regional lettings and the suburban drift of inner London that has characterised migrations of the last century all increase the amount of competition for social housing in the borough. It remains the case that the borough has one of the lowest waiting lists in London and the growth agenda linked to Thames Gateway offers opportunity to grow the social housing stock for the first time in two decades. The competition for social housing occurs particularly in the west of the borough and around Barking and will be most intense in sites where private development contributes social housing through Section 106 agreements (notably around Barking Town centre that has built out rapidly in recent years). The competition is 'racial' in as much as a diverse range of ethnicities compete for social housing in east London on the basis of social need. Yet objectively, the numbers of inward migrants to the borough that stem from sub regional lettings have remained low, running at numbers in the high hundreds / low four figures range.

3.23 The second strand of competition revolves around access to private goods, and again particularly concentrates on the housing market but in this instance focuses around private housing for purchase. There is considerable evidence – particularly from school rolls in the east of the borough – of significant inward migration based on uptake in the cheapest housing market in London. The competition for housing to buy occurs particularly in the more desirable 'cottage estates', where low density, family homes (with gardens) have been particularly subject to right to buy growth of large numbers of leaseholders (such as on the Becontree estates and in the low density private ownership areas of Dagenham, in the east of the borough). The competition is 'racial' in as much as a significant number of buyers are from the first/second generation of successful British African communities, economically and socially mobile. Clearly, incomers are not all African and as one local econometric study demonstrates (Cambridge Econometrics 2005), as development continues and new unit supply increases, this competition in the housing market will combine with the 'churn' within exiting stock, leaseholder properties and private new build, creating more complex market options locally. However, events such as the sale of the major Beam Reach site, close to Barking Riverside, by the London Development Agency to the Black Majority Church displaced from the Hackney Wick site through the Olympic development (the Kingsway International Christian Centre) will clearly enhance the public profile of the African and African Caribbean communities locally.

3.24 The third strand of competition revolves around the labour market. The socio-economic profile of the borough generally, and the leaseholders 'working' white class in particular, is significantly concentrated on the 'skilled manual' standard industrial classifications (SICs). A casual examination of estates such as Becontree reveals the concentration of residents in occupations that relate to plumbing, building, roofers, glazers. These are precisely the areas of London's labour market that have been most susceptible to competition from inward migration from the new accession country migrations, particularly from Poland and Lithuania since 2004.

3.25 The point about this typology is to understand that objectively, the forms of competition between 'old white communities' in Barking and inward migrants are plural in nature. They involve established Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities of two and three generations, African communities whose migration pattern frequently can be traced to the 1980s, and an Eastern European migration of the last three years. There is also no necessary correspondence between the 'objective' forms of inter-ethnic competition and either the level of BNP support or the forms of 'threat' that the BNP themselves have chosen to highlight in their campaigns at borough level as local research on BNP support demonstrates[5]. However, significantly the default model of change does indeed point towards increased segregation generated by the existing forms of competition for and access to public and private resources and opportunities in housing and the labour market. The default model points to increased BME access to social housing estates where there is most 'churn', development and regeneration – particularly around Barking Town centre – and increased BME private housing self segregation, particularly in areas of low cost (largely African) purchase in Dagenham. This leads to tensions, and poses challenges to community cohesion. In going beyond the default model new forms of council and community leadership will be required and also arguably cross-agency innovation around public and private housing supply with the common aim of building cohesive and successful communities in the context of challenging change. However if we assume that BNP support is based on irrational populist sentiment alone – and not forms of rational self-interest as well – then we will not frame correctly policy interventions locally.

Conclusion


4.1 So how do we do justice to the concerns and anxieties, the rights and the responsibilities of both existing residents and successive waves of incomers in both the inner and the outer east end? Both places face severe strains generated by finite supplies of public goods and growing demand. There are longstanding tensions between languages of rights and responsibilities and concepts of identity and belonging that draw on the tension between notions of community (and communitarian) obligation to those we know and love, that might be juxtaposed with a sense of justice that does not differentiate between individuals, does not privilege kinship links and treats with indifference the sense of belonging locally, preferring to privilege the citizenship rights of all. In part the dilemmas reflected in this paper reflect the way that these conventional debates of political theory are inflected by the temporalities and cartographies of contemporary urbanism (Keith 2005).

4.2 This might make us want to think about how a sense of communitarian investment in the intense belongings of local neighbourhoods, or sets of streets, sit in tension with a sentimental globalisation that accompanies globalisation's flows of people and finance. Transnational links sit in tension with spatially bordered configurations of 'the local community'. Likewise people have struggled in most parts of London to make something of their worlds and these struggles are themselves crystallised in the folk struggles against fascism on Cable Street and in the factory at Fords that themselves constitute small histories of belonging. Doing justice to the memories and narratives of these histories is a moral imperative that sits in tension with the problems of rationing in the welfare state - of a school place, a council home to rent, or a hospital bed.

4.3 The simplifications of Dench and Gavron's The New East End cast this narrative in a plot characterised by the betrayal of the white working class. The demonisation of the people of Barking found in some liberal commentary acts symmetrically; the white working class becoming the lumpen residue of reactionary sentimentality. In truth both accounts simplify and caricature. To deny the incommensurabilities of senses of belonging and regimes of citizenship at the neighbourhood, municipal and national scale is disingenuous. To ignore the competing calls and moral demands of the past, present and future cities is likewise. But to refuse to recognise these incommensurabilities is culpable. Public policy mediates these tensions in alternate models of the city yet to come that will either enshrine a debate about the multicultural inflection of the good life or entrench social division and polarisation.


Notes


1 The work in Barking and Dagenham was commissioned by English Partnerships to address the impact of the rise in support for the far right in the electoral politics of the borough on the regeneration agenda for the borough. It took place over a period of six months in 2006 and 2007. The extended ethnographic exercise in race and local politics began in Tower Hamlets in the late 1980s and the element of participation began to encroach on the processes of observation as the author became first a councillor, then subsequently for eleven years held senior posts as lead member for regeneration (six years) and leader (five years) between 1994 and 2006 in the borough. During the time he served as leader the author notified colleagues from all parties of his wish to continue a process of ethnographic research of race and local politics while serving as a councillor and interviewed representatives from all parties accordingly.

2 More extensive data can be found and is reference in the report for English Partnerships 'British people Live on the 14th floor', mimeo report (available from the author).

3 Draft alterations to the London Plan: Housing Provision Targets, October 2005. London: GLA

4'BNP scores first victory in Dagenham' 23rd May 2006, BNP press release.

5 The Far Right in London: a challenge for local democracy? is published by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. The research was carried out by Professor Peter John (University of Manchester), Helen Margetts (Oxford University), David Rowland (University College London) and Stuart Weir (University of Essex). 'BNP'S barking stance: the BNP's victory in Barking has led to calls for greater provision of affordable housing.' Property Week, May 26, 2006.


References


BACK, L.; Keith, M.; Shukra, K. and Solomos, J. (forthcoming) Power, Identity and Representation: Race, Governance and Mobilisation in British Society Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

BUNTING, M. 2006 'Ignored, angry and anxious: the world of the white working class' A social study from the heart of the left could be a blueprint for a Tory take on communities, family and the welfare state.' Guardian, 13th February 2006

CAMBRIDGE ECONOMETRICS 2005 Barking Housing Study. Report to English Partnerships and the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham'. BBP April 2005 (Consultant report)

DENCH, G. and Gavron, K. (2006) The New East End, London: Profile Books

HALL, S. 2001 'The Multicultural Question.' In Hesse, B. (ed) 2001 Un/settled Multiculturalisms: Diasporas, entanglements, transruptions. London: Zed Books

KEITH, M. 2005 After the cosmopolitan? Multicultural cities and the future of racism. London and New York: Routledge.

MILLS, C. Wright 1959 The Sociological Imagination. Oxford: oxford University Press

Olechnowicz, A. (1997) Working-Class Housing in England between the Wars: The Becontree Estate. (Clarendon Press of Oxford Historical Monographs.) New York: Oxford University Press.

PAREKH REPORT (2000) The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, London: Runnymede Trust.

YOUNG, M. and Wilmott, P. (1957) Family and Kinship in East London. Harmondsworth: Penguin


We should not confuse nostalgia with history


Cosy notions of the white working class hinder our understanding of migration

  • Michael Keith

  • The Guardian, Tuesday 7 March 2006

  • Article history

Geoff Dench and Kate Gavron argued that Britain's welfare system has marginalised the white working class in London's Tower Hamlets and helped fuel years of racial conflict in the borough (Lost horizons, February 8). They suggested that "simmering racial tension" was attributable to a "well-meaning welfare policy", citing an "anti-racist card played against the white working class" and a "real sense of injustice over ... the allocation of social housing". This unremittingly downbeat narrative squares oddly with the absence in the East End of the disorders seen in 2001 in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham, and the diverse solidarities that faced down more recent bombings by the IRA, the nail bomber and again last summer. Dench and Gavron's arguement also sits awkwardly alongside unrivalled improvements in Tower Hamlets' schools, and the borough's 2003 beacon award for national excellence in community cohesion.

The issues raised in the article are important. But the authors conflate a historical amnesia around whiteness, selective histories, and a debate about welfare rights and migration. In their narrative, nostalgia trumps history. Yet, in reality, "whiteness" crumbles under historical scrutiny; it is held together by a plaintive appeal to the horrors of the Blitz. As Alf Garnett's "manor" in Wapping has been subverted by the gentrification of Rupert Murdoch and Rio Ferdinand, and the pacification by cappuccino of the old docks, we occasionally forget that white solidarities emerged from frequently violent conflict between Jewish, Catholic and other communities that belie the cockney's cosy image.

The authors suggest that white families were discriminated against in the postwar settlement, through the prioritising of Bangladeshi housing needs in a "preoccupation with the most vulnerable". This underplays the role of the Bangladeshi community in confronting racist violence and the systemic injustice of local bureaucracies.

Most significantly, they duck a defining question of contemporary politics: how do we regulate the welfare state in a world structured by global flows of people and resources? While the economic benefits of migration accrue nationally, the social costs are concentrated locally. Crudely put, we make most demands on the welfare state at the beginning and the end of our lives. Migrants are cheap for the welfare state. Most come schooled and skilled. They participate disproportionately in the workforce and contribute tax revenues. But the social costs in housing shortages and ethnic competition are focused on dense city neighbourhoods.



This is where the article's greatest descriptive power and its most serious analytical flaw come together. The historical complexities of this story are echoed in modern equivalents: today, housing on sink estates bought through right-to-buy (by whites and Bangladeshis) is rented to Lithuanians and Brazilians, and the Catholic school rolls rise again. Who has a right to demand welfare support in this globalised world? The welfare state must speak to these realities in a language of rights and responsibilities fit for the 21st century.

· Michael Keith is Labour leader of Tower Hamlets council, east London, and author of After the Cosmopolitan: multicultural cities and the future of racism
michael.keith@towerhamlets.gov.uk

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