This letter was published in yesterday’s Swindon Advertiser

On behalf of Swindon Tenants Campaign Group I would like to express our gratitude for those people who supported our campaign against the sell-off of our homes to a new Housing Association. I would also congratulate the far larger number of tenants who made their own contribution in delivering an overwhelming No vote. All across the town thousands of discussions took place as tenants considered their future under the proposal of the Council. Each of those conversations was important.

Contrary to those who said that tenants were ‘apathetic’ and the the ‘transfer’ was a foregone conclusion, the high turn out and the massive majority showed that tenants were bothered about who their landlord was.

Those who say the No vote was just the result of inertia and because ‘people don’t like change’ are underestimating the intelligence of tenants and the fact that they thought about and discussed the options they had and considered the consequences of the ballot decision.

Above all tenants refused to be bludgeoned into submission by the relentless campaign of the Council. They were angry that some Council staff were trying to persuade them to vote Yes when they (the staff) were supposed to be neutral. They were angry that they were pressed as to how they would vote when it was supposed to be a secret ballot. Many of them felt they were being harassed by the Council. They asked themselves why the Council was so keen on the transfer. If it was such a good deal why all this pressure? They had the scepticism of working people everywhere when a manager tries to get you to do something you may not want to do and tells you he/she has your best interests at heart.

Isn’t it a paradox, some have asked, that tenants want to “stay with the Council” when they don’t trust it? Most often people talk about ‘the Council’ as if it was a single entity. It’s not. It comprises the political group which runs it (there only by the sufferance of the electors), the senior officers who do the bidding of that group, and, of course, the troops on the ground who do the work for the tenants. Many tenants wanted to hang onto their “secure” tenancy despite the reassurances of the Council. For many of the older tenants, who know what life was like before the big Council house building programmes after the Second World War, Council housing was a liberation from overcrowded, expensive private rented accommodation. A great many tenants were opposed to transfer because of their own or their family’s negative experience of Housing Associations.

Tenants were literally inundated with material from the Council and they could see that all of it was one-sided and biased. It did not admit to a single risk of ‘transfer’. No wonder that a majority of them thought that the Council sounded, as one tenant said at an STV meeting, “like an insurance salesman”.

As the Advertiser journalist expressed it, the ballot result was a “crushing defeat” for the Council. Tenants are not sheep to be easily led. They have their opinions, they can make up their own minds. And they have shown grit and determination.

What now? Swindon Tenants Campaign Group was set up to campaign against transfer. Having played our part in that victory we have decided to continue organising and to campaign for the interests of tenants on an ongoing basis. We will be a non-party political independent tenants group which fights for the improvement of the service we receive. We will campaign for a new round of Council house building which is the only realistic way of tackling the housing crisis and stopping the rise in the numbers on the Council house waiting list. What else we do will depend upon what those who get involved decide together.

Tenants should be aware that the Swindon ballot was watched with interest across the country where other tenants may face the threat of transfer. So we also are connected with the national Defend Council Housing Campaign which has defended Council tenants from the attacks they have been under for many years. We have, by the way, had messages from around the country from tenants who have taken heart from our 72% No vote.

Tenants in Swindon have shown they have some mettle, that the Council cannot ride roughshod over us. We won the ballot but we need to get organised to fight for our collective interests. We cannot tackle the problems we face, each of us on our own. We need to do it together.

If you are a tenant and interested in getting involved in Swindon Tenants Campaign Group, please contact us by email at stcg@btinternet.com or ring 07786394593. Visit our website at https://keepourcouncilhomes.wordpress.com

Martin Wicks

Swindon Tenants Campaign Group

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