Saturday, 1 August 2009

Ministers take far-right fight to estates

From the Independent:

White, working-class areas to be targeted as Government attempts to thwart rise of the British National PartyWhite, working-class estates are to be targeted by a government campaign to head off the threat from far-right extremism. A list of "hot spots" considered susceptible to the far-right's messages is being drawn up by officials in the Department for Communities and Local Government. About 100 council wards will be identified by using crime, unemployment, and income data, supplemented by "soft intelligence" from local sources.

Each community will be targeted with "tailored" measures designed to steer them away from the far right. The tactics used will include:

Holding "open and honest" discussions to allow residents to air grievances without being accused of racism, while tackling immigration "myths";

Tackling segregation by bringing together people from neighbouring, but ethnically distinct communities;

Focusing a £1bn new jobs fund on the areas, offering jobs and work experience for unemployed young people;

Fostering more community leaders, who can help local authorities to respond to the concerns of communities;

Forcing local authorities to be more transparent on social housing policies.The nationwide drive comes after the British National Party (BNP) won two seats during the European elections last month.In an interview with The Independent, John Denham, the Communities Secretary, admitted that the Government had been guilty of failing to communicate with the traditionally Labour-supporting areas in the past and now had to launch a "sustained and visible campaign" to re-engage white, working-class communities with mainstream politics.

"Very few people would actually see themselves as white supremacists or white fascists," Mr Denham said. "But we know that those communities are the ones that often say no one's speaking up for us. That's a sense populist parties can exploit. I think that there has been a concerted effort over the last 10 years to target resources at the most deprived communities. But I think if we're honest about it, the extent to which that work has really engaged a lot of local people has been patchy... Some are undoubtedly people who have voted Labour in the past."

The Government will use the campaign to take on the issue of immigration, explaining its points-based application system and tackling "myths" about social housing. Research published this month revealed that less than 2 per cent of public housing stock was occupied by people who had moved to Britain in the past five years, but a Government report this year found that people on working-class estates believed that refugees were being given priority for social housing.

"The factual evidence about take-up of housing is very clear," said Mr Denham. "But it doesn't mean that people don't believe that new social housing is going to migrants. There is a real discussion to be had about the priority given to the length of time someone has lived in an area – we think that is a legitimate discussion. That enables you to put the facts on the table."

The communities involved are expected to be identified soon after the summer recess, with work beginning in September. The scheme will also focus on highlighting help already available for accessing jobs, housing and child care, as well as action taken to tackle antisocial behaviour and health care.

HnhNorfolk adds:

Canvassers in Norwich campaigning for the recent elections reported that they were appalled by the state of some areas of social housing they visited in their leafleting. They found signs of 'arrogant neglect' from the councils, and anger about that apparent neglect from residents.

It seems obvious that more and better social housing is needed countrywide, and Norfolk is no exception.

There should also be more attention paid to keep the social housing estates in good repair and good order.

Local Labour activists were suggesting recently that the only way to do this in Norfolk was through a back-to-basics 'door-knocking' around the estates to talk with residents in order to prioritise their concerns and to build up organised residents' associations to tackle problems of maintaining order and liaising with local authorities.

What happened that the Labour Party forgot the importance of this sort of grass-roots organisation?

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