This pernicious choreography hints at a more sinister logic…

The following is taken from a piece by Alex Vasudevan for the Guardian (read the full article here).

Alex begins by describing the sinister moves the government has danced so far, beginning with the launch it’s consultation “Options for dealing with squatting” last July. Since then they’ve almost completely ignored the consultation’s submissions, not only from SQUASH, but also from the Crisis, the Law Society and the Metropolitan Police.

Last week they completed their circuit of cynicism by elegantly by-passing the parliamentary process and adding Clause 26 as an amendment to the legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill. The clause was passed last Tuesday evening, as though it were a simple shuffle rather than the mass-criminalisation of homeless people:

“This pernicious choreography – from summer consultation to rushed last-minute amendment – also hints at a more sinister logic. On Tuesday morning, the housing minister, Grant Shapps, tweeted the following: “St Paul’s: Right to protest NOT a right to squat. Looking at law to see if change needed to deal w/ camps like St Paul’s & Dale Farm faster.” Shapps’ casual and lazy equation of protest and collective assembly with the rich and varied history of squatting reveals, it seems to me, the ultimate target of the government’s legal revanchism.

While Shapps’s contemptuous view of squatting is hardly surprising, his suggestion that legislation may be needed to address the emergence of a new occupation-based movement signals a move to further proscribe and limit the right to protest. This also runs counter to the very spirit of the consultation response, which stressed that any new offence will not apply to “protest activities in non-residential premises such as university buildings”.

It nevertheless remains instructive to take Shapps’s words at face value. After all, just as squatting must be set against the backdrop of an highly uneven and exploitative housing market, the occupation at St Paul’s is itself one part of a new and growing form of opposition to the systemic inequities of financial capitalism. Housing inequality has always been central to this system and the incessant “creative destruction” of our cities has been a defining feature of big capital. It is not without good reason, therefore, that many worry about the impact of a criminal ban on squatting.

For many years, squatting has offered a necessary alternative for some of the most vulnerable members of our society, who squat out of sheer desperation. In the face of widespread media hostility and longstanding political antipathy, squatters have assembled (often quite literally) a genuine alternative to a failed pro-market model of housing driven by profiteering and speculation.

The occupation at St Paul’s and the wider movement out of which it emerged is, in many respects, a response to a similar predicament. As the draconian logics of public austerity start to bite, it is clear that an alternative model is sorely needed and that, as squatters and occupiers have shown us, it is indeed possible to still build more just and equal spaces in our cities.

While the government may think otherwise, this is, in the words of the geographer David Harvey, “an inescapable opportunity and an obligation that none of us can or would ever want to avoid”.”