Jon Cruddas (Dagenham) (Lab):
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire), who made a thoughtful contribution. I agreed with a
20 Oct 2005 : Column 1039
whole swathe of the content, which makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. I am absolutely with him on the demand for social housing, for example. I welcome the Government-inspired investment in diesel technology and the investment by the Ford motor company on its estate, which four or five years ago was facing closure. We are now looking to create a robust centre for diesel engine technology, with many jobs, which will make one in four of the world's diesel engines.
I welcome, too, the hon. Gentleman's comments about ensuring that we have the transmission belt of infrastructure investment so that our communities can benefit from job generation sites, be they in Canary Wharf or other parts of the Thames Gateway. That will help to ensure that we overcome some of the problems of past regeneration that have precluded local people benefiting.
I have a slightly different take on the debate from the hon. Gentleman, but it does fit in with some of his comments about local community involvement in Thames Gateway regeneration and the key issue of sustainability. I will use the term "sustainability", although it is a bit of a misnomer when used in communities such as mine. At the moment, I do not have a sustainable community. A lot of the language and strategy deployed in the national debate at Westminster about the Thames Gateway is completely at odds with our local experience. We have a raw, difficult and brittle social and political formation and some issues need to be debated; otherwise, the Gateway will be seen as something that is done to people. People will have these changes deposited on them, to the detriment of their material circumstances, rather than being central to the future possibilities.
I speak as someone who has always been very keen on the Thames Gateway. I was involved with it before I came to the House and I have always been a proud advocate of many of the possibilities that it will create. The Mayor of London has a creative approach to it, encapsulated in the Mayor's plan, in which he tries to deal with poverty, under-investment, neglect, race, class and imbalances in the city by focusing on economic development to the east. I warmly welcome that, not least because it is a way of handling changes in the city over the next 10 to 15 years. We all know about some of the estimates for the future, such as the extra 850,000 people and the like. The only way to deal with those is to rebalance the city eastwards.
Having said all that, I shall come at the subject from a slightly different direction today. I was slightly late for the Minister's introductory remarks because I was at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre at the launch of a document, "The Far Right in London: a challenge for local democracy?", published by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. This marks an interesting staging post in the debate about sustainable communities in east London, not least because it tracks empirically the growth of voting for the BNP over the past few years in communities to the east of London. It also looks at some of the issues involved through effective and rigorous qualitative techniques and focus group research in my own community in Dagenham and east London.
20 Oct 2005 : Column 1040
We must consider the issues thrown up in the debate about future economic regeneration. Our local political experience is at odds with the way in which the debate is calibrated in central London, partly because of the dynamics of political parties at Westminster. At the recent Liberal Democrat conference, young, lean and hungry men and women urged the party to take the centre ground and nudged their leader accordingly. Conservative Members are voting today on the trajectory that their party should take. The leading contender is urging a recalibration of Conservative politics towards the centre ground. The three political parties are focusing on a select area of the political map, with tactics hinging on swing voters in a few marginal constituencies. Accordingly, there is an ever more scientific analysis of swing voters' preferences and prejudices. Arguably, that serves to disfranchise many voters in communities such as mine. That makes party and policy renewal difficult for the Government, because the gearing of the electoral system serves to create a political strategy that compounds the problems experienced in our local communities.
I want to expand that argument with reference to three issues, starting with population movements and the quantitative resource allocation of public expenditure. London has a population of 7.4 million. The Government have recently acknowledged, on the basis of surveys and responses, that there are a minimum of 570,000 illegal migrants in Great Britain. That does not include dependants, so we must assume that the true figure is much greater. This morning, urban geographers said that the vast majority of those people live in London, but they are off the radar of public policy makers because, by definition, they are illegal. In addition, the National Audit Office has estimated that there are 290,000 failed asylum seekers in the system, so there are hundreds of thousands of people in the city who do not appear on the radar of public policy making. Those people are not living in Kensington, because they gravitate to the areas of the city with the lowest-cost housing market. Dagenham has the lowest-cost housing market in Greater London and exerts a magnetic pull on people moving into and within the city that has been increased by the massive hike in London property prices over the past five or six years. It offers low-cost housing and, as a result of the right to buy, has a much greater private housing market.
There has therefore been an extraordinary transformation in the community over the past few years in both size and heterogeneousness. A great deal of that transformation, however, is not captured on the formal statistic baseline because it is illegal. The rapid change and growth of the community collides with a long-term legacy of poverty, under-investment and neglect in the financing of public services. The collision between the rate of change in the past few years and the legacy of under-investment is creating a scenario in which the British National party can organise and become active in our local community. Quantitative resource allocation is critical for Dagenham, as we are a unique depository for a great deal of population movement into and within the city. A second important factor, however, is the policy formation strategies of political parties, which are driven by the preferences of swing voters in marginal seats and may compound our problems as local policy priorities are at odds with those of the middle England swing voter.
20 Oct 2005 : Column 1041
That brings us back to the social housing issue. I cannot understand why it is not the dominant political issue in this country. It is the dominant political issue in my community, by a country mile. We have ever-expanding social housing allocation and transfer lists. As a consequence of modern decent homes standards, we are pulling down high-rises and decanting hundreds of families, thereby reducing the stock. The right to buy continues remorselessly, reducing the stock further. There are no new council housing units. We scramble around to get new partnerships to maintain nomination rights for us locally, but it is an almighty struggle, not least because of the reform of local authority social housing grant over the past couple of years.
Through the cumulative effect of those factors, housing becomes the dominant issue and, for much of my community, the psychological link between their material circumstances, the changing community, issues of colour, race and the consumption of public services, and fascist or far right political activity. Unless we unblock the linkage between housing and the consumption of public services in poor communities, we will fail to resolve the material issues that are creating such an environment.
Public policy makers work on certain lagged indicators of population movement or growth. Those do not include migrant labour or illegal migrant workers who move into low-cost housing areas. They do not even include the recent rate of change because they are based on out-of-date statistical data. We cannot even tread water through incremental investment in public services because the community is expanding so much faster than the incremental investment, which compounds and intensifies the problems of the consumption of public services, so people see migration as pivotal to the decline of their own relative social wage. They therefore join the dots and see the migrant as affecting their own economic and material circumstances and those of their family and community. That creates the perfect setting for the BNP.
The third element in the role of public policy makers and Governments is the pretty wretched process by which, because of the political imperatives of middle England, we must seek to neutralise or, in the code, triangulate around difficult political territory. That brings us back to race, asylum, migration and immigrationwitness the appalling way those were handled at the last general election. That is a generic problem for all political parties; I am not singling out any in particular.
The problem is that we use the language of restriction when we talk about migration, asylum and immigration, which is at odds with our economic strategy, which is a more instrumental one aimed, first, at creating lower wage labour market flexibility, secondly, at creating the labour to rebuild our public services, and thirdly, at filling future skill shortages and demand for labour. Accordingly, there is a collision between the language that we use and the economics driving our domestic strategy for public services and labour market policy. That in turn compounds the problems in communities such as mine, which are trying to navigate through the great changes occurring within and around them.
20 Oct 2005 : Column 1042
Cumulatively, that creates a difficult political formation for us because of the quantitative issue of resource allocation, the public policy priorities locally, which are at odds with those of national Government