Scrapping with Sir Keith

SO, we all saw the peerage list last week and made a joke about what Hamble might think of Floella Benjamin looking out of the rectangle window at the House of Lords – and then noted the appointment of Baroness Meral Ece, the former Lib Dem councillor in Islington, us all hoping that she won’t give up tweeting. Every time she revulses at This Week, you can only grab a sick bag and join in.

But look down the list and look who’s a ‘Sir’ now: The man above – Trevor Keith Hill, a housing minister under Tony Blair.

You don’t have to have the longest memory in the world to remember how in Camden he became the figurehead for the Labour government’s ‘immoral’ – Frank Dobson’s word – decision to freeze investment in Camden’s council homes. And all because tenants committed that sin of sins and asked to keep the local authority as their landlords in the face of pressure from Sir K’s department to allow estates to be privatised.

We met on several occasions. Each time we asked him the simple question: Why should families continue to live in substandard conditions when you’ve said you’ve got the £283 million need to bring them up to scratch? HAND IT OVER. He squirmed a little bit, but the roots of the government’s dogmatic position was never properly unearthed.

One of our final meetings was at the Labour Party conference in Brighton when me and Dan Carrier followed him around and handed him a readers petition calling on the governmnent to meet its election manifesto promises and bring all council housing up to scratch. He was a good sport, agreed to be interviewed and to be photographed accepting the signatures. Sir K was full of matey guffaws and mock strangulatuon gestures that day, but the government’s rigid policy, however much it was exposed as being blatantly unfair, stayed the same.

Files later revealed under the Freedom of Information Act revealed our reports at least stirred some fear into his department’s press teams.The angry rearguard was most obvious when he called Camden tenants ‘Trotskyists’ for not playing ball. Those kind of remarks can’t have helped Labour in the 2006 council elections when they lost power in Camden. He is characterised as an ‘unsung  hero’ but people round this crook of London remember him symbolising a belligerent policy that tenants and MPs of all political shades often said equated to ‘blackmail’.

Sir Keith moved on, I wonder if he remembers our occasional clashes on walkabouts in King’s Cross or on his visits to Bidborough House: he knew what was coming whenever he stepped inide the borough. He went on to work closely with Blair but didn’t feature in Gordon Brown’s cabinets.

…whereas the council tenants of Camden are still fighting the same battle. In September, it was a different minister being stalked in Brighton by the CNJ: John Healey. There was a bit of deja vu on that sunny evening on the south coast. He was full of promises but nine months later the electorate chose something else and rghtly or wrongly, there isn’t a housing minister at the coalition cabinet table any more.

Camden tenants remain defiant. The saga continues.

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