Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Canary Wharf: the dark tower

This month the sterile steel of Canary Wharf will play host to anti-G8 protests. Daniel Turi of Occupy London gives us the lowdown on the speculators’ skyscrapers

June 5, 2013
4 min read

canary-wharf

Canary Wharf is London’s second finance hub, after the City itself, and its futuristic assortment of gleaming glass towers is home to some of the world’s largest multinationals and highest-paid executives. Canary Wharf’s streets are ‘chartered’: the land belongs to the Canary Wharf Group, in turn majority-owned by US-based finance giants Morgan Stanley and Glick Family Investments. As the group’s website states, ‘Canary Wharf is not just a place, it is a company.’

For residents of London’s Isle of Dogs, which surrounds Canary Wharf, the development represents a complete break with the past. Ushered into the industrial age as the West India Docks in 1802, the site once thrived as part of the world’s largest port, which at its 1960s peak employed more than 20,000 local people.

By the 1970s, however, changes in shipping technology and a decline in British manufacturing conspired to seal the docks’ fate, and redevelopment proposals were drawn up. One plan, proposed collectively by community groups, docklands boroughs and the Greater London Council, was for a public sector-led regeneration offering affordable housing, improved transport links and new industries catering to local skills. But the newly-elected Thatcher government already had its own plan: to turn the site into an ‘enterprise zone’ with major tax incentives for private developers to create a financial centre to rival the City.

Massive petitions from community groups were dismissed by parliament, and Canary Wharf was given the all-clear. As the bulldozers moved in, a damning report by the Joint Docklands Action Group offered a grim prediction. The site, it said, would become ‘a mausoleum for a vanished community and a monument to speculators’ greed’. In the heady days before the crash, such talk had long since been forgotten, and the Canary Wharf Group boasted its success in filling the office space and ‘creating’ 100,000-plus jobs. But even a cursory glance at what goes on in those offices, and who they employ, tells a different story.

The translucent shaft that holds HSBC’s global headquarters recently presided over some of the most opaque executive dickery witnessed in 21st-century Britain, with the bank caught laundering hundreds of millions of pounds for drug cartels. Not to be outdone by their neighbours, Barclays’ Canary Wharf spivs rigged the Libor rate (the benchmark for short-term interest rates) in an infamous example of the insider dealing that pervades modern finance. They also established a prolific and secret tax avoidance factory, organising tax avoidance on an ‘industrial scale’, according to former Tory chancellor Lord Lawson, that raked in £9.5 billion at the expense of UK taxpayers before being shut down earlier this year.

And Barclays is just the tip of the skyscraper. Fellow ‘Wharfer’ KPMG – one of the ‘big four’ accountancy firms – holds the record for the world’s biggest ever fine for criminal tax fraud, a cool $456 million back in 2005. The other three – Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young – are also represented on the estate.

And then there’s the financial meltdown. Strolling back in time through a 2007 Canary Wharf would be like patrolling an identity parade of the crisis’s culprits, featuring Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and insurers AIG, along with the credit-ratings agencies paid to provide the smoke and mirrors.

Long before the crash, Canary Wharf had helped propel the Thatcher-inspired shift in Britain’s economy towards speculative high finance. As a result, we are more vulnerable than ever to financial crises, while our politicians refuse to act for fear of displeasing their beloved cash cow.

Another major impact of a finance‑dominated economy for ordinary Brits has been the shocking rise in income inequality since the 1980s.

Nowhere in Europe is more emblematic of social inequality than the borough of Tower Hamlets, where Canary Wharf’s totems to ‘trickle-down’ economics overlook an area with the capital’s second-highest rate of homelessness and unemployment, and where four in ten children live in poverty. Government-imposed austerity – itself a response to the calamitous failings of the borough’s millionaire bankers – has only exacerbated this reality. Local government cuts are now prompting Tower Hamlets council to sell off council housing to private developers. Meanwhile, the speculators in the towers overhead are already busy trying to engineer the next bubble.

Occupy London Tours offers free alternative tours of London that explore how executives in the City, Mayfair and Canary Wharf helped cause the crisis.

Take action at Canary Wharf on 14 June with They Owe Us

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook


67