As Mr Potato Ed's gang continues to splinter in the aftermath of their election defeat, some of them have been calling for mayoral candidate Mr Ken LivingstoneIpresume to be kicked out over allegations that he urged people to vote for ANOTHER Hard Labour exile who ran for mayor after being expelled, Mr Lutfur* Rahman, our new mayor here in Tower Hamlets.
But never fear!
Should the newt-loving one find himself on extended gardening leave courtesy of the Party regulations, here comes Mayor Bojo the Clown, taking up the Red Flag and accusing the Coalition of urban cleansing "Kosovo style".
Look I condemned this sort of language when commentators from the Left (Mr Chris Byrite and Ms Polly Toytown) used it, so I'm not going to shy away from condemning it when populist latinophile and free-market buccaneer Bojo pops up with the same nauseating nonsense from the Right.
On the one fluffy foot, the government is proposing to cut housing benefit which will result in several thousand families, most of them in London, facing straightened circumstances or even having to move home with all of the stress and worry and extended commuting that goes with that. And on the other fluffy foot, Serbian nationalists were MURDERING PEOPLE for having slightly the wrong sort of DNA.
It's easy to forget, what with us OPPOSING the illegal Iraq invasion, that Liberal Democrats were right up front in CALLING for ACTION to intervene in Kosovo because the situation was TOTALLY DIFFERENT, because it was a CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY; and it's easy to forget that Liberal Democrat MPs like Mr Ed Dvaey – getting properly ANGRY about this on Questionable Time last night – have a long history of standing up for the rights of oppressed minorities like the exiled Kosovans living in his constituency.
The truth is, of course, that Bojo's "man of the people" act is just another pose cooked up by our wily old bird of a mayor, whose "village idiot" pantomime appears to fool most of the people most of the time. He was playing up for his audience, as he always does, and so OF COURSE he used populist language. In short, he said it because he's a BERK.
He's apologised now, and said that he was quoted "out of context".
Mayor Bojo is quoted as saying:
"the last thing we want to have in our city is a situation such as Paris where the less well-off are pushed out to the suburbs".Obviously this is "out of context" because it omits the START of his sentence.
"I'll emphatically resist any attempt to recreate a London where the rich and poor cannot live together," he said.
"On my watch, you are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have been living and have put down roots."
What the Mayor ACTUALLY said was:
"Only a TRAITOROUS NUMBSKULL who was TRYING to STIR UP TROUBLE for Dave, er Mr Balloon would say that the last thing we want to have in our city is…"He concluded with the remarks as quoted before adding:
"Crush the revolting peasants! I myself will drive the first bulldozer! I say, is, is this thing still on? Oh corks!"I'm sure that context makes things MUCH clearer.
Housing and housing benefits DO need reforming.
There are several things to consider:
In order to function, our cities need people working at ALL levels from senior executive through to cleaning lady and all points IN BETWEEN and all of these people have to have somewhere to live.
There's a kind of IRONY that we've created a system that allows only the VERY RICH and the VERY POOR to live in our city centres. Who was it who was going to look out for the SQUEEZED MIDDLE? No, I've forgotten.
Those houses have to be within a reasonable (by which I mean AFFORDABLE) travelling distance.
There really is an upper limit to how much time people can spend travelling and still have any kind of LIFE for themselves, and besides as travel distance goes UP so does the cost of that travel, especially as we know fares are going to go up above inflation, cancelling out the benefit of living in a cheaper area.
The problem in London is exacerbated by the sheer absolute VASTNESS of the city, which pushes commuting distances further and further out, costing more and more in money AND time! But equally, London has an exceptional (if creaking) transport infrastructure which other cities simply lack, so it's certainly not as simple as saying London is the only "special case".
The MAIN PROBLEM is not the BENEFIT at all but the shortage of HOUSING.
Too few homes for too many people is too much demand and not enough supply which the laws of economics tells us will drive up prices. And guess what, that's EXACTLY what has happened. Add to that too many contractors building highly profitable but wholly inadequate "rabbit hutch" flats (and penthouses) and not enough three or four bedroom family homes AND councils under the Labour government failing to replenish their social housing stock AND a national mindset, encouraged by all previous governments but not least Mr Frown, that your house going up in price is a good thing that makes you richer (as opposed to a really BAD thing that prices you out of the "next rung" of the housing ladder, assuming you can get on the ladder in the first place, making it harder for you to move when you need to, and contributing to the reduction in social mobility), and you can see why we have a PROBLEM. House prices skyrocket, rents follow and so does the Housing Benefit bill.
Not that BUSINESSES haven't got a share of the blame, with too many companies squeezing the last drops of PROFIT out of their employees by paying minimum wage rather than a living wage that reflects cost of living and cost of commuting.
It really should NOT be for government to make it possible for business to make super-profits because they can underpay their workforce. What we end up with is a disguised subsidy whereby big business and landlords cream off the profit paid for from the taxes of workers who are too exhausted to complain because they spend all hours commuting.
It's like something out of Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS!
What is truly EXTRAORDINARY is that it is Hard Labour that is DEFENDING this system and the supposedly right-wing Coalition that is trying to reform it!
What we need is a threefold PLAN:
1. Build MORE SOCIAL HOUSING, more than that build more than the housing that is taken out of the system through right to buy or obsolescence so that there is a NET increase. Hard Labour failed to do this for thirteen years; the Coalition are promising to try.
2. Strengthen FAIR RENT procedures and put systems in place to ensure that the landlord and not just the claimant who shoulders a fair share of the reduction in Housing Benefit.
3. Get some binging agreements with businesses that they will "share the proceeds of growth" and agree to pay LIVING WAGES.
I can't promise that NO ONE will get turfed out of their home, but it's actually VERY DIFFICULT for a private landlord to just throw someone out; there are a LOT of protections in the law for tenants, even lodgers living in your own home. (Daddy Richard is starting to have the shakes just remembering this, and he took advice from lawyers and obeyed the law every step of the way.)
But it's not fluffing GENOCIDE, all right?
So cut the demagoguery from Left AND Right and let's instead try and bring some PROPOSALS to the table so you can help us to modify the proposals so that they are, in that overworked phrase, fairer for all.
*and in a RARE example of self-censorship I AVOID using the obvious FUNNY NAME because even I can see that it might be a little inappropriate in context to use the word: "Luftwaffe".
Mr Rahman's policies may be METAPHORICALLY destructive but he's not REALLY going to blow up the East End and in spite of comical intention, even the implication of comparing a person I disagree with to the German war machine might be an eensy-weensy bit hypocritical when complaining that people are comparing the government's housing policy to the Serbian war machine.