Swindon Council tenants have voted decisively against transfer of our housing to a Housing Association. On a turnout of 65.6%, 2,329 (27.7%) voted in favour, and 6,073 (72.3) voted against.

The result could hardly have been more decisive. It will take a while to make an assessment of why it was so decisive. We’ll be seeking feedback from around the town. One of our concerns during the campaign was that some tenants appeared to think that the result was a foregone conclusion, whilst some said that “they’ll do it anyway”. Others believed that the Council would rig the ballot. We tried to get across the fact that tenants had the power to stop the transfer (we were the only ones with a vote) and put over the message, don’t waste your vote; don’t let the Council win because you didn’t vote. Clearly the high turnout indicates that even if people thought some of these things they decided to cast their vote anyway. It was the high turnout that delivered the decisive majority.

Whilst we are obviously over the moon at this result, there needs to be an accounting of the campaign of the Council. Despite their assertion that they were only “presenting facts” the Council was organising an undeclared Yes campaign. Every piece of propaganda they produced was designed to lead tenants to draw the conclusion that there was no alternative to transfer.

One of the reasons why the majority was so decisive, in my view, was that tenants know a hard sell when they see one. They had staff visiting their doorsteps, phoning them up. Swindon Tenants Campaign Group had unsolicited calls from tenants all over the town complaining about staff behaviour towards them. Some of it was disgraceful, like the occasion when a tenant was told they might as well take a No poster down as it wouldn’t make any difference, or another told ‘you can vote No, but it will still go through. Another tenant rang us up and told us that a senior council officer who they had spoken to, told them ‘we’ll be better off with a Housing Association’ (the officers were ‘neutral’ we were told). People we did not know told us that some staff were trying to persuade tenants to vote for transfer. Indeed on the Council’s own Housing Group Facebook page there were complaints from tenants about harassment. Rest assured we’ll be pursuing these issues.

Swindon Tenants Campaign Group will be meeting to discuss the result and what comes next. My personal view is that we need to continue with STCG as the focus for building an independent tenants movement across the town. We need to campaign for funding which measures up to the needs of tenants and for a new Council house building programme to address the housing crisis, both locally and nationally.

Finally, our thanks to everybody who contributed to the campaign – people who helped STCG to deliver our leaflets, and those of you who if not involved in the campaign, did their bit talking to their neighbours and friends and arguing the case for a No vote. Thousands of conversations were had all over the town, and each of them was important.

We should all be proud of the fact that despite being outgunned by the Council in terms of money and other resources, we won against the odds. Tenants refused to be brow-beaten. What we need to do now is to build on this victory by developing an independent tenants organisation to fight for our interests on an on-going basis.

Martin Wicks

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