Archive for the ‘Housing’ Category

The Economist and the UK General Election – what a squirm

Two years ago I critiqued the Economist’s advocacy of the Conservative Party to form the next UK Government under David Cameron. The magazine, in my opinion, disingenuously dismissed Ed Miliband’s programme in favour of the “stability” offered by more economic-liberal austerity by the Conservatives. The magazine overlooked the commitment to an in-out referendum on Europe despite its avowed support for the European Union, at least in the context of a single market and customs union.

Fast-forward 2 years and here we are with another General Election having been called – we are told by Theresa May – to protect the will of the people translated as her vision of Brexit from those who would oppose it (saboteurs according to the Daily Mail), like parliamentary oppositions are supposed to do under the Country’s usefully unwritten constitution. May, not being a democrat, or not one that I recognise, duly called her General Election after having been on a walking holiday. Though I am minded that she first had a word with the architect of the Conservatives’ last election victory, the benighted Lynton Crosby.

I was waiting to see what stance The Economist would take this time. Let me have a look. First of all, the leader of the opposition is called “ineffectual”. However, that is not the real story. May looks to achieve a landslide victory and increase her majority from the current 17 to something approaching 100. “For the 48% of voters who, like this newspaper, opposed Brexit, this may look ominous” says the Economist, un-reassuringly. However, we have mis-read this. Indeed, argues the newspaper, “[i]nfact, it offers an opportunity for those who believe in a more open, Liberal Britain”. Really? We need to know more.

If I read it correct, if May gets her increased majority, she will fear the Commons less when it comes to the final deal. The House of Commons fought hard to have a say on the final deal and would, if the “deal” was not as good as what the country has at the moment with EU membership, tell her to go back and try harder. One assumes she is particularly fearful of her “hard Brexit” backbenchers. If she has a bigger majority, goes the argument, she can accommodate their wrath as well as that coming from the depleted opposition benches. This means, continues the argument, that she is more likely to be able to make compromises with the EU with this safety net. And that means a softer Brexit. Brilliant!

Dear Economist, that is nonsense. May wants to close the borders. Only a hard version of Brexit will enable that. Plus Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, has himself described it as a “power grab”. Moreover, she also does not want to be bound by the current manifesto of her party written by her predecessor. So, her Finance Minister, Philip Hammond, who suffered ignominy when his budget tax increase was rejected, can now make this a manifesto commitment. Also, May herself is obsessed with selective education and already has in train a return to grammar schools at the expense of children from less privileged backgrounds. The Economist thinks that Theresa May with a majority can fix the housing shortage and make good the “funding crisis in social care”. Bearing in mind that her party is the cause of these two problems and policies so far pursued seek to make it worse, not better (for example, right-to-buy housing association dwellings).

We should not be surprised by this spin and support for the Conservative Party; but we are where we are because of the Conservative Party (austerity policies and THAT referendum). The solutions and future must lie elsewhere.

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Brenda says…

Brenda is just an ordinary woman in Bristol. She was questioned on the street by a BBC journalist and she said that she was fed up with politics – there is too much of it about at the moment – and she just wanted to live her life in peace. That is a bit of a paraphrase, but only a bit.

Let me be clear, I do not want an election. What is the point in a fixed-term parliament if an insecure Prime Minister decides that she needs a personal mandate for her mendacity and push for majoritarianism and the limited state? However, if we are going to have one – precipitated to some extent by the EU’s interregnum over exit terms – then so be it. But this is no ordinary election. I’m 53 and I believe this is the most important election in my lifetime. We can let the Conservative Party for the foreseable future dominate the executive and legislature (not to say judiciary if recent experience is anything to go by) or we can stand up for something bigger.

This is not a party-political election in the normal sense. Notwithstanding Brexit, this is an election to stand up for public services, the NHS, education, housing, social care, the environment, liberty and decency. All of these things the Conservative Party seem to be willing to denude or abolish in pursuit of power. Not the public good.

This will be an ugly island if May achieves her aim. All opposition parties have to work together on this one. This is not about Labour, LibDems, SNP, Green. This is about a future. Brenda needs to engage, vote and learn.

End.

 

Another attack on public housing

Pay to StDSCF1131ay seems to be the latest attack on tenants of public housing in the UK. Proposals by David Cameron (left) and his Conservative Government to force tenants who earn more than £30K to pay market rents is the latest attack on ordinary people. The effect is thought to result in many more people being priced out of accommodation, particularly in London and other increasingly expensive urban centres. This comes on top of the forced sale of the most valuable council houses, right to buy against housing associations, and the end of permanent tenancies.

Let us unpick the argument. According to advocates of this proposal, people earning over £30K are being subsidised by the poorer tenants. The Department for Communities and Local Government has argued that in some cases these so-called high earners are being subsidised to the tune of £3,500 per year (the difference between what they pay in social housing vis-a-vis private-sector rents). Essentially those under the threshold have nothing to fear.

£30K can rarely be seen as high earning. For example, the sum may be a household aggregate. Two people  may be working full-time togoogle make the £30K. If they are additionally parents, I suspect, £30K does not go far. To have the ‘aspiration’ (a word we heard a lot of from David Cameron and his campaign guru, Lynton Crosby) during the election campaign) to earn more than £30K may be punished by homelessness. People paying different sums depending on their incomes is fairer, goes the Government argument. Fairer to the extent that these people will then end up subsidising Google.

Model of David Cameron: Holly MacDonald

Should I admire Jacob Rees-Mogg?

Mhairi_BlackLast week I was driving to work listening to BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Jenny Murray, the programme’s avuncular anchor, was interviewing the 21 year old Scottish MP, Mhairi Black (left). It was a general discussion about policy, life, MPing, etc. She made her maiden speech in parliament on 14 July 2015 and was roundly lauded for it, despite having broken the protocol that maiden speeches should be largely apolitical.

It transpires, however, that Ms Black is an admirer of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP for North East Somerset. This is not someone that is at the top of one’s list for admiration. I find him extremely divisive and not a little annoying. But listening to the interview a seed of doubt was implanted in my brain. Ms Black said that although she fundamentally disagreed with him he was a) very polite to her and b) articulate such that he would always give a reason for his position (something which I would have thought was true of all MPs, but seemingly not).

Oh dear! Should I now reconsider my feelings towards Mr Rees-Mogg (below right)? Fortunately, to the rescue, came today’s edition of the Radio 4 Sunday morning magazine programme, Broadcasting House, for which he was a guest newspaper reviewer (along with former Business Secretary, Vince Cable and Hon_Jacob_Rees-Mogg_MPShelagh Fogerty, a radio presenter in London). They were discussing privatisation, and in particular the privatisation of Channel 4 Television. Cable argued that privatisation would undermine its public service ethos, particularly its flagship news programme, Channel 4 News.

And so Mr Rees-Mogg did what he does best, plausibly lie. First, he said that there are many private-sector news outlets that have high journalistic integrity. Hence Cable’s argument was not valid. He must have been thinking about Sky News and the integrity of Rupert Murdoch’s unimpeachable global news empire. He then went on to say that there should be a management buy-out; seemingly the best of both worlds, a privatised broadcaster with the existing management’s public service broadcasting ethos.

Now I have spent a good part of my life studying privatisation (UK bus and rail industry). In both of these cases, management buy-outs were seen as good options. Many of the former national bus company regional operators were transferred to the private sector by means of management buy-outs. The same is true of railway franchises. But where are they now? The bus and rail industries in the UK are dominated by large – increasingly international – conglomerates. One of the exemplar management buy-outs in the rail industry, Chiltern Railways (operating trains out of London’s Marylebone Station) held out for 6 years before finally succumbing to corporate ownership. It is currently owned by Deutsche Bahn, the German national railway operator. A few bus companies still hold out. In my home town of Hull, East Yorkshire Motor Services remains stubbornly independent. I cannot think of many more.

The point is Mr Rees-Mogg, management buy-outs are simply a means for corporations to access strategic assets at probably a little more than they were originally purchased by incumbent managements. The best way to protect strategic assets from corporations – if this is a desirable objective – is to keep them publicly owned. In this I include housing (wholesale transfer of public housing and right to buy). Mr Rees-Mogg is deliberately specious. He needed to be challenged on his plausibility. He was unfortunately deemed to be presenting a plausible argument. Speciousness is a deeply unadmirable trait.

Pics: Mhairi Black – SNP (through Wikipedia)

Jacob Rees-Mogg – LadyGeekTVFlickr

Increasingly undemocratic

Jeremy_Corbyn_Global_Justice_NowSome regular readers of this blog have expressed a disappointment over the lack of political content in recent months. To paraphrase, “I do not care about your tandem tour or cigarette advertising, but I do like to read what you think about…Jeremy Corbyn (left) or whoever/whatever”. Like a few of my peers, since the UK General Election in May, it has been quite difficult to muster much in the way of enthusiasm for writing about politics in the knowledge that a significant minority of the population voted for a bunch of lying, thieving and privileged men (largely) to run (down) the country, destroy the trade unions and the Labour Party and oppress working people.

What Cameron said about Jeremy Corbyn at the Tory Party conference earlier this month was outrageous slander. It is true that Corbyn was elected the leader of the Labour Party against all of the odds and in spite of the best efforts of the Tory-lite brigade within the party and their media friends. It is refreshing to hear a leading politician publicly renounce the use of nuclear weapons, expose the lie of the deficit, decline to sing the national anthem and bow before the queen.

Let’s just deal with the national anthem and patriotism. I regard myself as being fiercely patriotic without being nationalistic. I do not sing the national anthem, even at the Proms of which I am passionate.  However, as a republican atheist, it is quite difficult to retain authenticity if one starts singing “God Save the Queen”. Surely? Corbyn was respectful at the Battle of Britain memorial service. He just did not sing the words. Moreover, if one listens to national anthems the world over, mostly they say something about the country, its people, the landscape, etc. The British National Anthem says nothing about these things. It is unsingable for any rational patriot.

Another thing that defines Corbyn is his commitment to democracy. OK, sometimes leadership is necessary, and merely listening might not be enough. The Conservative Government realise that their programme cannot be taken through the UK parliament and be ratified. There is simply not enough support for the programme in both houses. So what does the Government do? Find a way of not taking policy through normal channels, that’s what. For example, there is a law against new selective grammar schools in the UK. They are regressive and favour the already privileged children of middle- and upper-class parents. So instead of trying to get the legislation through parliament – which the Government knows is impossible – it sanctions the establishment of a new school as an annex of an existing school some 20km away, claiming that it is not a new school.

Then there is the issue about sale of social housing units – housing association properties to you and me. Notwithstanding the fact that attempts to sell off social housing stock at a discount is a bad idea as it transfers much needed affordable housing into the private sector funded by us, the taxpayer, to benefit private landlord (this is what happened with the sale of council houses in the 1980s). Additionally, Housing Associations are separate entities from the state and government. The houses are not the Government’s to sell. Yet. Again, knowing that it cannot get this measure through the Parliament, what has the Government done? Well, it has negotiated withNat_Fed_logo_1.png the National Housing Federation an extra-parliamentary deal. According to the Guardian newspaper “Housing association leaders believe a voluntary deal will guarantee their independence as charities and private housing providers, and head off a full-scale battle with government, which has been critical in recent weeks of association performance and efficiency.” In other words, taking on the Government would undermine charitable status, a central plank of their identity and constitution. Essentially, they would then just become private companies, like any other. Or more likely public assets and available for sale. Fortunately, some Associations are resisting this bullying. Overwhelmingly.

Picture: Jeremy Corbyn by JMiall, Wikipedia

The Economist would say that, wouldn’t it?

Economist_election_coverRegular readers will know that I recently ended my long-standing subscription to the New Statesman on the grounds of poor writing, bigotry (relating to transgender discrimination) and all-round listnessness and lack of progressiveness. I have maintained my subscription to the Economist on the grounds that one needs to know what the enemy is thinking. Its endorsement of David Cameron and the Conservatives for the election on Thursday 7 May (left) justifies this decision.

Here are some of the arguments presented in favour of a Conservative-led government after 7 May with some easy responses:

1. The Economist says: reducing the deficit is the priority. At 5 per cent of GDP that has to be reduced and public sector cuts are necessary in order to achieve it.

Strassenbahn13 says: the deficit is not the issue. It is a finance question, not an economics question. The economics question says, is the deficit manageable? What economic policies are necessary to ensure growth such that social utility can be maximised across all constituencies? If the deficit is the priority, economics goes out of the window. We have austerity for the sake of it, or to meet the neo-conservative objective of the limited state; that is limited public provision of services ranging from the NHS (ongoing privatisation) and housing (forcing housing associations to sell their assets) to public transport and street cleaning. The deficit does not make us poor. An under-productive, non-inclusive economy that does not make tangible and socially useful products makes us poor. That is the one the Conservatives are promoting.

2. The Economist says: the Conservative’s record in public services is good. People are more satisfied with services such as the NHS than they were before the cuts from the first term in government.

Strassenbahn13 says: essentially, the Conservatives argue that we can have cuts to services without quality being affected, or at least the sense that the quality is diminishing. This is nonsense. The good ratings have been achieved by proud and loyal public-service workers working harder. I am one. I see it every day. The tipping point will come. Just look at Accident and Emergency in hospitals.

3. The Economist says: the UK has a higher proportion of people in work than ‘ever before’.

Strassenbahn13 says: whatever is meant by ‘ever before’, the economy is dependent on low-paid immigrants, zero-hours and temporary employment contracts, insecurity and exploitation.

Here are the arguments against a Labour-led Government made by the Economist with some even easier responses:

1. The Economist says: It is harder to believe Labour will be successful with the deficit. The numbers are ‘vaguer’.

Strassenbahn13 says: As noted above, the deficit is a red-herring. But vaguer than the Tories £8bn savings from some undisclosed source proposed by the Conservatives?

2. The Economist says: tax the entrepreneurs and wealth creators and they will go somewhere else.

Strassenbahn13 says: is that the best argument there is? There is no evidence of this because people come to London in particular not because of the tax rates, rather it is a modern, liberal, tolerant, multi-cultural and global city. Some of them, I would very much welcome to leave. But often their threats are empty. I’m still waiting for that great entrepreneur Paul Daniels to leave after Blair claimed power.

3. The Economist says: Labour believes that living standards are being squeezed because markets are rigged and that the Government can fix them. Markets such as energy (dominated by six big oligopolistic players); zero-hour contracts and housing (private-sector landlords in the ownership of a basic of life and in limited supply).

Strassenbahn13 says: Miliband might just be right by this. Markets are rigged. They are imperfect. They work for some, but most of us are usually fleeced. Regulation is inadequate. And that deficit is caused by market failure, not public-sector workers. Where the Economist wants more markets – particularly in the NHS – most of us want fairness.

4. The Economist says: Labour would have to be in coalition with the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) ‘which leans strongly to the left’. This leads to ‘the certainty of economic damage’ arising from a Labour-led government.

Strassenbahn13 says: I would have thought the certainty was on a future Conservative-led government. Their economics are hugely damaging and the social unrest that these policies may unleash is real. And with less money for the police, that is going to be yet another management challenge (though, presumably, that is why Boris Johnson has bought the water cannon for London?). Actually, a coalition with the SNP seems like a very exciting and progressive option.

For all politicians and commentators – where is climate change?

There’s more, Cameron will push for the legalisation of fox hunting. If ever there was an indicator of a de-civilising policy, that is it. How we treat animals matters in itself. But to openly advocate cruelty to animals as an election promise is positively sickening, if not sick.

And let us not forget that the Conservatives are pathological liars. They have published two ‘independently written’ letters from business people endorsing the Conservatives to have been shown to be dishonest. And then Grant Shapps lying about his business interests and having an unusual relationship with  his own Wikipedia page. What can one say about him, other than he is the Co-chair of the party?

Oh, and, the Conservatives cut the budget for helping refugees crossing the deadly Mediterranean Sea. They have this and other blood on their hands.

I could go on.

How to make the housing situation worse – basic finance

Labour-Party-Manifesto-2015On listening to Ed Miliband launch the Labour Party’s election manifesto on 13 April, I despaired. Like in the time of Blair in 1997, Miliband is committing the Party to an austerity programme that is false. It is a construct of the Conservative neo-liberals who want to roll back the state and are using the deficit as a justification.

So when it came to David Cameron, the following day, launching the his party’s manifesto, I  had noConservative-Party-Manifesto-2015 real expectations. But they were met, nonetheless. Back in the 1980s, Thatcher forced local authorities to sell their public housing at a discount to tenants under a programme called Right to Buy. Gradually, but surely, this policy reduced and denuded the public housing stock and made a lot of people wealthy. And they were not the people who bought them, necessarily.

We’ve since had help-to-buy, a dangerous incentive to people unable to buy because of the inflated price of property relative to incomes and the deposit levied by lenders. The Government will now subsidise the deposit for applicants. This further inflates house prices and subverts the whole point of deposit guarantees. And largely because of the Conservative Party’s policies and dogma associated with ownership.

And now what might we have? A Conservative Government would force Housing Associations, the privately-owned successors to local authorities charged with building and managing housing for eligible people largely disenfranchised from market housing provision, to sell, at a discount, these dwellings.

It seems that austerity does not apply when the Conservative Party is building its own constituency (or making war). Essentially the policy represents a money transfer to its own supporters (or anticipated supporters). Notwithstanding the immorality and legality of this, the policy is finance madness. Let me get this right, Housing Associations take out loans to build dwellings. Having built them, they sell/part sell a few and rent out the rest. They then go back to the banks and borrow more money with these dwellings as security. Take away this security and the banks will not lend, or certainly not cheaply. The whole model collapses. Genius.

These Conservatives are vile.

Public housing

Bill_RandallI was very pleased to hear Councillor Bill Randall being invited on to Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday to discuss current inequities regarding housing in the context of the acute shortage experienced in Brighton and Hove where he is a senior figure and a distinguished housing expert. This being the BBC, he was pitted against Adam Memon (right) of the Centre for Policy Studies an apologist forMemon continued expropriation of public housing by private landlords and provision of public subsidy for this through high housing benefit allowances. Seemingly in Brighton and Hove, 6000 council dwellings have been sold since Thatcher’s flagship ‘right to buy’ policy of the early 1980s; one thousand of these have passed into the private rented sector. Another tranche have been resold to private sector buyers from outside the town – Brighton, in particular, is extremely expensive and ex-council houses are sought-after properties. A cursory glance in the window of an estate agent shows a three-bedroom example for sale at £275,000. The exchange has been captured here:

Picture: Bill Randall: brightonandhovegreens.org; Adam Memon: CPS